Stern measures should be taken against the culprits of open burning

In 2016, the then-government proposed to seize lands where big fires take place as a result of slash-and-burn re-foresting techniques often used by palm oil plantations. Unfortunately, the idea was dropped in 2020. The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) calls on the present government to consider adopting it as one of the measures for minimising air pollution and transboundary haze.

Large-scale burning, particularly during hot weather and the monsoon transition period, causes haze pollution from suspended smoke and dust particles in dry air. The current transboundary haze in Malaysia’s northern states is attributed to wind movement that brought polluted air from hotspots in the Mekong subregion comprising Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand.

Peat fires and open burning resulting from the resumption of economic activities post Covid-19 also contribute to the current haze problem in the country.

We urge Malaysia to emulate Singapore’s enactment of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act in 2014 to enable the Singapore government to sue companies that cause transboundary environmental pollution.

There is the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution that was established in 2002 of which Malaysia is one of the 10 signatory countries. Under the Agreement, the governments are committed to taking measures to mitigate the problem of haze. Regrettably, the commitment to mitigate haze has been ignored.

Malaysia has to consider the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from open burning besides the haze. Thus, it is not only the inter-monsoon season that is worrying, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide help trap heat in the atmosphere. The result of which can be devastating such as leading to crop failure thereby creating food shortages.

Every measure taken to reduce or eliminate air pollution is important because the world is now experiencing a climate crisis. Thus, transboundary haze is only one of the concerns to grapple with.

It took more than a hundred years of research and data to convince the scientific community about climate change. It will need everybody’s effort to support the scientific community in addressing the global climate crisis issues.

In the Climate Risk Country Profile: Malaysia by the World Bank Group (WBG) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the report warns that Malaysia will experience heat waves that are projected to increase significantly in frequency and intensity due to a warming climate.

The report also states that flooding will contribute “more damage than any other (natural hazards)  the country experiences”.

Policymakers should seriously read this report to plan ahead for urban development, the agriculture sector, among others. It is because the predicted trends of global warming are going to impact the existing infrastructure and plans. For example, the sea might claim seaside villages while wider and deeper drainages are needed for flood mitigation.

Global warming will cause more severe changes in weather patterns thus calling for a tougher stance by the government against slash-and-burn operations by companies.

We reiterate our call for the government to seize lands where slash-and-burn operations take place and to legislate an Act to take companies to court for transboundary pollution.



Mohideen Abdul Kader
Consumers Association of Penang (CAP)

Letter to the Editor, 26 April 2023